ELLSWORTH — If you are a Mainer and you have a beloved, old family recipe, chances are it may have come from Marjorie Standish.
Standish wrote a Maine Sunday Telegram column, “Cooking Down East,” for 25 years. Timeworn and likely stained cutouts of the Gardiner home economics teacher’s column can be found in old recipe boxes and cookbooks in many households.
“At this point, people’s grandmothers read the column in the newspaper, wrote the recipe down and they have become old family recipes,” said Bangor Daily News “Tastebuds” columnist Sandra Oliver. “Sure it’s still an old family recipe but really it’s Marjorie. For the most part they’re good, they’re really practical.”
Marjorie’s columns were compiled into a book, “Cooking Down East,” in 1969.
Oliver last year edited those recipes for a new cookbook, “Cooking Maine Style: Tried and True Recipes from Down East.”
Down East Books, an imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, published the book in May.
“Down East Books recognizes that Marjorie Standish is a standard in Maine,” Oliver said. “She wrote in a way that really appeals to a lot of people.”
“I find a lot of her columns have legs,” said Oliver, who has been writing her own column for more than 12 years now.
Consider “Scalloped Potatoes and Bologna,” which calls for just four ingredients: sliced raw Maine potatoes, thinly sliced raw peeled onions, 2 cups of medium white sauce and a ½ pound of bologna.
Oliver included many of Marjorie’s head notes in the book. For the scalloped potatoes and bologna, Marjorie wrote:
“I have a strong feeling about this recipe. It was in the first column I ever wrote and has been one of the most popular recipes I have used.”
Oliver said she turns to Marjorie for “classic Maine micro-regional cooking.”
In New England, regional dishes include seafood, pumpkin pie, apple pie, mincemeat pie and brown bread
“Maine’s cooking contains a lot of that,” she said. But, because of the state’s poverty, it also includes a lot of molasses, think molasses doughnuts, because molasses was a cheap sweetener and fish.
“Poverty kind of preserves tradition because people aren’t free to adopt new stuff,” Oliver said. “There’s no cash for that. A lot of our food ways that survived in Maine faded out elsewhere.”
“A lot of Mainers could fish for a living and eat fish, which was cheap — cheaper than buying bologna,” she said. “But if they could have they would have bought bologna because it was modern.”
One challenge for Oliver in editing the book was navigating some of Marjorie’s dishes that were considered new at the time.
“We look at these and go eeew,” Oliver said. “I describe those in the book as period pieces.”
Oliver recalled a cocktail hour recipe that involves spreading softened cream cheese on bologna and cutting it into wedges. At the time, everybody thought it was really terrific, Oliver said.
Today, one might spread mascarpone on mortadella, Oliver said. “Everyone would think that was terrific. But it’s essentially bologna and cream cheese.”
“I thought it was important to have a representation of some of that stuff because those were recipes she used and her neighbors used,” Oliver said. “Some of them are good.”
Oliver is partial to “Cheese Crunchies,” a recipe that she found under the name “Cheddar Crisps” in the now defunct Gourmet magazine.
In Oliver’s version, you mix grated sharp cheese, butter, flour, crisp rice cereal and a dash of ground red pepper, chill then form into balls and flatten on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 10 minutes.
Marjorie’s is nearly identical except she used margarine and added a dash of onion salt.
Oliver is a food historian who lives on Islesboro, where she is a selectman. She has a vast knowledge of New England food history, subsistence living and Yankee cooking.